Verstappen will be desperate to prove F1 title 'WASN'T down to Masi'

Max Verstappen will be champing at the bit to prove his maiden F1 title ‘WASN’T down to Michael Masi,’ claims Jenson Button… as he picks Red Bull champion ahead of Lewis Hamilton as the ‘fastest and most gifted driver’

  • Max Verstappen won his first F1 title last season in controversial circumstances
  • Race director Michael Masi’s position is under scrutiny over his decision-making
  • Jenson Button says Verstappen will be keen to show Masi is not reason for title
  • The Dutchman is the ‘fastest and most-gifted’ driver on the grid, believes Button 

Reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen will be on a mission in 2022 to show his maiden world title was not solely down to the intervention of race director Michael Masi, claims Jenson Button. 

Masi’s future hangs in the balance following the controversial ending to last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Verstappen passed rival Lewis Hamilton to win his first world title.

But Button, who previously partnered Hamilton with McLaren, believes Verstappen will be as motivated as ever to shift the cloud of controversy and show his critics that he is a worthy champion.  

 Max Verstappen won his first ever F1 drivers’ world championship in dramatic style in 2021

 The decision-making of race director Michael Masi (pictured) has put the title under a cloud

 Former F1 driver Jenson Button believes Verstappen will be keen to repeat to silence critics

‘I’m sure he wants to come out fighting and fight for victory from the word go,’ Button told Sky Sports F1. 

‘It’s kind of a World Championship he has won, but I’m sure he wants to go and win another so he can go “look, it wasn’t down to Michael Masi”.

‘It’s always difficult when there’s a controversial ending, but he’s an exceptional talent and I said that from the word go. 

‘I raced against his dad in F1, Jos Verstappen, and I raced against his mum – she was my team-mate in karting! Max was always going to be a good driver and it’s whether he can keep building on the natural ability he has.’

Lewis Hamilton (left) looked destined to win his eighth F1 title at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix until Verstappen (right) overtook him on the final lap following a series of contentious rulings

Hamilton (left) sportingly congratulates Verstappen (right) on his title success after the race

Hamilton is set to break his silence on his F1 return and controversial world title loss to Verstappen in Abu Dhabi this Friday. 

The seven-time world champion will speak about the rumours of his potential retirement from the sport as well as air his thoughts on the decision that cost him yet another world title, as Mercedes unveil their new car for 2022 season.

Doubts lingered for weeks and months that followed that GP in Abu Dhabi but a refreshed Hamilton looks set to return to the grid amped up to try and claim a record-breaking eighth world title, to take him past Michael Schumacher.  

But for Button, it is Verstappen, the man with No 1 on his car this season, who will again stand his way, and asked who he thinks is the best in class out there, he is siding with the ascending Dutchman. 

‘For me, he’s the fastest, most gifted driver,’ Button added, ‘but it’s whether he can improve on that and build himself into someone like Lewis who is the complete package.’

Until the 2022 season gets underway on March 20 in Bahrain, talk in F1 circles continues to fixate on Masi and his role in the dramatic conclusion in Abu Dhabi.

Once the safety car came out and Verstappen pitted, there were five cars including Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel (not pictured) between Hamilton and his title rival before Masi intervened

With around five laps to go in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton led second place Verstappen by 12 seconds and was cruising towards a victory that would have crowned him world champion for a record eighth time. 

However, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi then crashed late on around the circuit, bringing out the safety car due to the debris littered over the track. 

Mercedes and Hamilton were boosted when Masi gave the instruction that the lapped cars would not be allowed to overtake the safety car and rejoin the back of the pack before the end of the race.

A seething Verstappen said on the radio: ‘Yeah, of course, typical decision… I’m not surprised.’ 

Then, in the final stages of the race on December 12, Masi ordered only the lapped cars between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through, providing the Dutchman, on fresh tyres, a shot at passing Hamilton – who was on old rubber – when the safety car departed.

The decision came after interventions from Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner and sporting director Jonathan Wheatley, who put pressure on Masi to release the backmarkers. 

The Dutchman passed Hamilton on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to seal the title

Button believes the ‘exceptional’ Verstappen will be keen to show Masi did not hand him a title 

The last minute changing of the rules cost Hamilton the world title, and led to calls for Masi’s job from fans and even Mercedes themselves.

FIA chiefs this week delayed the publishing of a report into Masi’s blunder, but have hinted that he will be allowed to stay on as race director. 

Masi, 44, has backing from significant figures in the corridors of power. They do not believe the teams should dictate who is the sport’s top official. Several drivers also voiced their support last week. 

F1’s governing body issued an inconclusive 46-word statement following the F1 Commission summit in central London.

It read: ‘The FIA president led detailed discussions of the 2021 FIA Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

‘Feedback from the Commission on matters raised will be incorporated into the president’s analysis and he will publicly present news of structural changes and action plan in the coming days.’  

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